Unconventional Gas Exploration & Extraction (UGEE) and High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing (fracking) on the Island of Ireland
Unconventional Gas Exploration & Extraction (UGEE) refers to the use of high volume hydraulic fracturing (fracking) of previously impermeable rock to permit the extraction of natural gas on a commercial scale from unconventional sources such as shale gas deposits, coal seams and tight sandstones.
At present, there is no exploratory or commercial drilling underway in relation to UGEE on the Island of Ireland. However in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, there a number of activities planned.
On this basis, research is required to fully understand the potential impacts on the environment from the use of this technology. The question of whether the existing EU environmental regulatory framework is adequate for proper control of unconventional fossil fuels projects is also important.
In May 2012, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released the report from a preliminary study “Hydraulic Fracturing or ‘Fracking’: A Short Summary of Current Knowledge and Potential Environmental Impacts”. Information provided by the preliminary research project has now been used along with other sources such as European Commission reports by a project steering committee to develop the Terms of Reference for a more comprehensive study which is being co-funded by the EPA, the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (DCENR) and Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA).
EPA has now launched a public consultation on the draft Terms of Reference document on behalf of the Steering Committee.
The Steering Committee comprises the EPA; Department of Environment, Community & Local Government; Department of Communications, Energy & Natural Resources; the Geological Survey of Ireland; Commission for Energy Regulation; An Bord Pleanála; Northern Ireland Environment Agency and the Geological Survey of Northern Ireland.
While elements of the research will relate to specific regions where petroleum licensing options or licences have been granted from the DCENR/DETI, it is the intention that the study will generally be applicable to the island of Ireland. Outputs from this research will assist regulators (North and South) in fulfilling their statutory roles regarding this activity if indeed it is to progress.
Interested parties are invited to submit written comments by 8th March 2013. The public consultation will ensure that this programme of research delivers a thorough and robust examination of the issues. It is proposed to award funding for research in three areas:
- Baseline Characterisation;
- Fracking Operations, Impacts & Mitigation Measures;
- Regulatory Framework for Environmental Protection.
Public Consultation Process
A dedicated e-mail address, UGEEconsultation@epa.ie , has been set up to receive all submissions on the Terms of Reference document. Interested parties and individuals are invited to submit comments to the EPA using this e-mail address only. Submissions cannot be considered if:
- They are submitted after the deadline of 8th March 2013;
- They do not relate to the contents of the document;
- They contain personal accusations, irrelevant or offensive statements/material.
A sub-group of the Steering Committee will assess all valid submissions and take them into account when finalising Terms of Reference for the research programme. All valid submissions will be made available upon request (individuals who wish to remain anonymous should note this point).
The EPA expects to commission the programme of research in mid-2013 and intends publishing a number of interim reports while the programme is underway. It is likely that the research programme will take two years to complete. A final report will then be published. The research programme will be co-funded by the EPA, the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency.
The document, Proposed Terms of Reference for EPA/DCENR/NIEA Research Programme on Environmental Impacts of Unconventional Gas Exploration & Extraction, is available on the EPA website.
Also available on the EPA website is the preliminary desk study report: Hydraulic Fracturing (‘Fracking’): A Short Summary of Current Knowledge and Potential Environmental Impacts, It provides a general introduction to the environmental aspects of fracking, including a review of regulatory approaches used in other countries, and areas for further investigation and research.